Stoning of couple in Kunduz

I opened my newspaper this morning to graphic images from a filmed stoning to death of a couple accused of adultery.  The film has been making the rounds of the major news outlets, perhaps because, as the Toronto Star notes, the stoning  is “the first to be documented on film since the Taliban were ousted from power.”  A warning is in order before you click the link; the video is unsparing in its detail, and very difficult to watch.  I opted for a news outlet that at least keeps the video paused unless the viewer clicks to launch it.  Some news sites (such as the Telegraph) immediately launch the video upon arrival.

I hesitate to even post this.  The sight of these images tears at the soul.  But as it happens, today was my annual class in which I explained to students that I was providing a non-required screening of a documentary on torture for their viewing, because I didn’t want our discussion of torture as a moral issue to be an entirely abstract or hypothetical discussion.  We should employ our abstractions and hypotheticals, yes, but I was adamant that we must also attend to the fact that torture happens to embodied individuals.

Perhaps I’ve seen too much cruelty today.  Perhaps I’m completely wrong that one must at least look.  Perhaps I’m just tired.  Readers are welcome to criticize (as constructively as you can, please) my decision to post this.  I felt all day that in a way I wish I had never seen the still photos in the paper.  Then I went and gave that presentation to my kids.  Am I full of it?

11 thoughts on “Stoning of couple in Kunduz

  1. Very important post – thanks for this. I share your sentiments, profbigk (though as hard as it is to bear, I think – perhaps a bit more strongly than you – that these matters deserve all the attention we can bring them).

    Side note: the last paragraph in the star news story for which you provide a link in the post employs very misleading and harmful stereotypes.

    For more on stoning, interested readers might want to check out my comments numbered 3, 18, 19, and 39, for instance, on the post linked below:

    Others, please share your thoughts/feelings…

  2. Thanks, David. Yes, I agree that the _matters_ deserve all the attention we can give them, and then some. But the images, they seemed especially hard to face today. What does attending to evils require of us? I have objected so often that well-educated philosophers must include embodied experiences in their philosophical analyses, but I wanted to not look, on this occasion.

    (I also thought the final paragraph to perpetuate bullshit, and frankly, that was also part of my distress; I looked at other sites that were just as likely to report on this by playing up the stereotypes, and felt manipulated by the Anglophone press.)

  3. I am totally with you profbigk.

    profbigk provides us with excellent questions. There are certain atrocities about which I usually just cannot, or do not allow myself to, hear/see details. Perhaps it is not clear where to draw the line between desensitization and hyper-sensitization, though my first thought is to hope that we do not become desensitized to such matters. On the other hand, I suppose people who work with survivors of such atrocities on a daily basis, for instance, need to develop some form of desensitization (maybe there is a more apposite word/concept) in order effectively to do their work. It seems a very plausible conjecture that teachers at various points face similar psychological situations/needs.

    Having said all that, I still think that attending to evils requires a great deal from us, however near, far, or demanding. Of course, this is a very contentious ethical issue with many different arguments for different positions. profbigk’s positions as stated and exemplified in the post and comments (including the uncertainties and questions) strike me as extremely important, in part by provoking/stimulating critical thought about the relevant issues – and perhaps also by raising consciousness about the evil(s).

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I am very interested in what’s going on in Kunduz, as the Dutch are going on a mission to train police officers and speak to laywers there. Makes me wonder whether we should really be training people to implement laws that allow for stoning etc.

  5. @David Slutsky: the last paragraph, in the version of the story I’m seeing at least, is a direct quote from a Taliban spokesman. What do you mean by “employs very misleading and harmful stereotypes”? If that’s what the Taliban is actually saying, then it’s an accurate statement of their beliefs.

    I agree that it is not an accurate statement about Islam as a whole, but then a bunch of semi-literate fanatics aren’t going to be particularly accurate about anything except their own view of things. Denouncing it as employing stereotypes is kind of a weird criticism.

  6. Hi J-Bro. Perhaps my criticism is misguided, or weird as you say, in which case I apologize for not thinking more carefully before typing. On the other hand, I might as well have typed, “The direct quote from a Taliban spokesman in the concluding paragraph of the news story employs very misleading and harmful stereotypes”. Typing that would have communicated roughly the same thing as what I did, or intended to, communicate.

    In addition, it might be worth noting that one of the only statements of condemnation of the stoning in the news story [though I now but not before take special notice of third paragraph] seems to take place in the third to the last paragraph. However, in your terms, it seems that there is no actual statement or sentiment of condemnation [there], but rather a mere quotation of what a particular police chief allegedly told the BBC. To be sure, concluding paragraphs often carry special weight and meaning. Also, I would argue that there is no such thing as “value free” news reporting for roughly analogous reasons as there is no such thing as “value free” science. As I think profbigk might have put it and had in mind, the Anglophone press, especially in the U.S., is incredibly bad on this score.

    I wonder whether we disagree (or have a miscommunication) about a related matter. May I ask what you mean by “Islam as a whole” (as opposed to “Islam”)? The statement in question is as false of Islam as comparable statements are false of various forms of Judaism and Christianity, for instance. I would venture to say that using the phrase “Islam as a whole” in your context is comparable to putting rape in scare quotes when discussing the rape charges against Assange, for instance. I imagine and/or hope that we do not really disagree on anything here, but rather express ourselves differently with different assumptions that may lead to more apparent than real disagreement.


  7. Granted David’s point about the weight of concluding portions of news articles, perhaps this one should have ended with some quotations from experts (such as appear the NYT piece linked below), but I definitely think that quotation deserves inclusion if it represents a standard Taliban attitude, (or that of most participants in the practice), as well as the opportunity for forewarned readers to see the video.

    “Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning)”

  8. The NY Times piece contains some more responsible reporting. Thanks for the link, Rob; I agree with everything that you say, though I apparently feel the need to say more. For instance, notice that paragraph six of the Star piece shifts without comment from describing what the Taliban fighters did (or are doing in the narrative) to what “mullahs” did (or are doing in the narrative). Very irresponsible reporting, and fairly bad coverage for other reasons. Sadly, so many news stories are like this that many people form very prejudicial views without realizing it.

  9. I try to avoid watching serious violence such as this – I didn’t click on the link. I think it does desensitise one. And it becomes part of one’s memory and part of one’s self – and I doubt that is a good thing. It is importantly different to read to about it and know about it.

    I always regret having seen the rape scene in the film Irreversible. I was invited along to the film by a female friend, knowing there was a rape scene, but thinking it wouldn’t be a problem. Well now I know better and wish I had not seen it. And that is only a film.

    At the same time, I find myself thinking that it is important to have seen those pictures from the liberation of the holocaust concentration camps. The bulldozing of bodies into mass graves. Why is this? Perhaps because it is really unimaginable, so mere description would not be sufficient. But perhaps also because there is a difference between seeing the aftermath of violence – seeing the terrible suffering, harm, evil, that was wrought – and seeing the act of violence itself.

    Thus the person working with abused women for instance, is seeing the aftermath. But she is not actually standing by witnessing the violence. Thus she is not affected in the way that she woudl be were she to watch the violence. Also it makes a difference that she is able to help the woman who has suffered.

    Watching a film (news report or fiction) one is always condemned to be an impotent bystander….

  10. Tina, thanks so much for your comment. Your response really does capture much of my pain.

    I continue to struggle with the responsibilities of witnesses. I went looking for the link because stoning, in particular, is something that Anglophones often have only imagined or third-hand understandings of, mixed with many poorly informed associations.

    It is especially laden to turn to news sources in countries that maintain the justifiability of their wars and invasions on the basis that we are spreading civilization (or in the case of my home country, ‘democracy, peace and freedom.’)

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